TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY IN ISLAND DEAL
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
HOLMES BEACH, Fla., Jan. 13, 2994 -- A clash between two wealthy neighbors that has cost the City of Holmes Beach about $100,000 was resolved in three contentious back-to-back hearings before the City Commission Tuesday night in favor of a four-unit condominium project proposed by Island realtor Frank Davis.
The commission approved the project unanimously after a three-hour hearing that listened to a gaggle of lawyers, zoning experts and a single member of the public, but the losing side has indicated they will now go to circuit court to block the plan.
Holmes Beach building inspector Bill Saunders said he approved the site plan.
The project at 5622 Gulf Drive has proved both costly and controversial for Holmes Beach, where taxpayers are shouldering much of the burden for an extended hearing process that began last June.
Davis proposed a use for his property that, according to a family of lawyers nearby, would block their view, overbuild on a lot that is too small, and require three variances for width, height and setbacks.
"There's something wrong somewhere when a project requires three variances," planning expert Tom Mcollum, a consultant to the McClean and Coloney families who own a large home nearby, told the commission. The two families were represented by Mark Shubin, the brother -in-law of Campbell McClean, who is also a Tampa attorney.
Saunders and Mackey, also of Tampa, told the commission that the lot was "a legally non-conforming lot of record" that should be approved in line with earlier decisions on two other properties along Gulf Drive in which variances for height and setbacks had been granted. Approval was conditioned on Davis obtaining a third variance for the width of the site plan, which is 11.5 feet smaller than codes require.
The commission, with Mayor Carol Whitmore missing due to illness, was guided by special counsel Mark Singer through the lengthy first hearing, an unusual "quasi-judicial" hearing on Saunders' interpretation of city codes as they were applied to the condo complex. Commissioners let lawyers cross-examine witnesses and offer rebuttals and closing arguments.
Saunders admitted he erred in a letter to Davis cited by Campbell when he transposed the square footage of the property from a survey, reducing its size by more than 700 feet. The commission found the typo to be an immaterial "scrivener's error" and denied the neighbors' appeal which was based in part on the conflicting footage measurements in several documents, including the letter from Saunders and an engineer's site plan. An official "signed and sealed" surveyors plar resolved the confklict and showed the Davis property was a total of 19,879.82 square feet.
Officials said the lot was big enough for the proposed A-1 multi-family residential use even at the lower erroneous figure, and commissioners brushed aside a discussion of seaward property lines after Saunders told them it was not germane. Campbell McClean had argued that the proposed use was unclear as to whether the seaward setback was 50 feet from the Mean High Water Line or 100 feet from Erosion Control Line. The former is a "meandering line" and the latter a line fixed by the state, and Campbell argued that "historically," the city has considered the two lines to be the same. Saunders said the median high water line can move as much as 150 feet in times of erosion or beach re-nourishment.
Commissioner Richard Lutz lashed out at both parties at the close of the first hearing, regretting that "two rich guys got the city into this mess." Lutz earlier had noted that the adjoining property blocked a view of the six-story Martinique condo tower 100 years up the beach when it was moved to its present site, suggesting that turnabout might be fair play, but Campbell McClean told the commission their home was moved by order of the state due to encroaching sea levels.
Mackey didn't mention the city's costs, but asked that all costs of the Davis side be paid by the two families that brought the appeal. Mackey said the legal work had so far cost the developer $250,000. The families denied that Davis had made substantial settlement offers.
Commissioner Pat Morton cast the lone "no" vote in the last of three hearings, against moving a house Davis has put on stilts as he waited a year for approval from the city. That home, at 5626 Gulf Drive, will be preserved as an example of Old Florida "carriage house" architecture, designer Emily Ann Smith told the commission. There was no debate or discussion of the move and Morton did not explain his vote. Commissioner Don Maloney chastised Davis for preparing the home on stilts before getting approval to do so.
The three-bedroom units could bring Davis as much as $1.2 million each in the Island's overheated real estate market. Davis says he plans to live in one unit, which he called his "dream home," and sell the other three.